Internet Librarian 2010: Learning from Failure
One of the hardest things we have to do is admitting that we failed. She was charged to create a new digital branch website for their library, but she had to nix the project because it wasn’t the right choice for the library anymore. Admitting that something you put a lot of hard work into failed is horrible. The first part of the process is to give yourself some distance from the project before you’re able to look back and see what you learned from it. Plan for the fall-out too. Don’t beat yourself up, and instead give yourself a timeline to look back at what didn’t work but set a cut-off point after which you move forward. Then start all over again from scratch and look toward a successful future project. This can sometimes be hard if you just failed. But it’s all about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying again.
Anythink has gotten a lot of press recently about its un-Dewey-ing of their collection. The “cynics in the library field” have had a lot to say about their approach. “We generally change ourselves due to inspiration or desperation.” Anythink’s buildings were a cross between a post office and a prison, and the poorest library district in the State of Colorado. Their website was horrible too, and were getting local front page stories with headlines “Adams library system worst in state.” They went out for two bond measures and both failed. One of the library’s board of directors members said: “We didn’t know what we were doing, so we just held hands and jumped.” They hired Pam Smith as a director, who was not only a visionary but a disruptor. She knew that to have a vibrant library system, they needed to have employees that were happy to be there. The old way hasn’t worked, so how are we going to establish the personality of the 21st Century Library? What are you hearing from your customers? They came up with new titles and new job descriptions. They came up with a new mission statement: “We open doors for curious minds.” And they created a staff manifesto for all Anythink employees, that starts with “You are not just an employee, volunteer, or board member.” The other big risk was just changing their brand to Anythink, including their doodle logo (a doodle is the beginning of an idea). They started with one of their smaller libraries first as a test site. They got a new building that did not look like a prison or a post office! Then they got to re-classifying the collection at that location by topic, not Dewey. They built 4 new buildings in a year (boo-yah!). They also went fine-free which takes staff out of the role of being policemen. They have lost a lot of materials this way, though. That may end up being a failure. Anythink shoots for 80%. They also questioned library programming, including the traditional summer reading program. They had a plan for summer reading plans and booklists. No sign-ups, no prizes, but you did get badges you could get if you came to some of the programs during the summer that tied into various subject areas. But they did find that people were interested in sign-ups still, so this is an area for change in the future. They haven’t gotten to the website yet – The site is missing a lot of information, they haven’t upgraded their ILS yet and the catalog is almost unusable! The website doesn’t mirror the staff and patron participation that you see in their physical buildings. They operate very lean. They have about half the budget of comparable library systems.